Sunday, August 6

Week 318 - Growing Perpetuity Index: A-Rated Dow Jones Composite Companies With Tangible Book Value that pay a “Good and Growing” Dividend

Situation: You need a way to save for retirement that is safe and effective. We agree with Warren Buffett’s approach which is to use a low-cost S&P 500 Index fund combined with a low-cost short-intermediate term US Treasury fund. If you’re wealthy, make the stock:bond mix 90:10. If not, move toward a 50:50 mix.

If you’re a stock-picker but fully employed outside the financial services industry, find a formula that won’t require a lot of your time for oversight and maintenance. The S&P 500 Index has too many stocks, so stick to analyzing the Dow Jones Composite Index. Those stocks have been picked by the Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Start with the 20 companies in that 65-stock index that pay at least a “market dividend” and are Dividend Achievers, i.e., have raised their dividend annually for at least the past 10 years. We call that shortened version The Growing Perpetuity Index (see Week 261). It also excludes companies with less than a BBB+ S&P Bond Rating or  B+/M S&P Stock Rating. But companies with with ratings lower than A- tend to develop problems, as do companies with negative net Tangible Book Value. (The SEC requires that the sale of newly-issued shares on a US stock exchange not dilute a company’s net Tangible Book Value below zero.) 

Mission: Revise “The Growing Perpetuity Index” to exclude companies with negative Tangible Book Value, as well as companies with an S&P Bond Rating less than A- or an S&P Stock Rating less than A-/M.

Execution: We’re down to 9 companies (see Table).

Administration: Our Benchmark for companies that pay a “good and growing” dividend is the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM at Line 14 in the Table). That fund represents a subset of the Russell 1000 Index of the largest publicly-traded US companies which pay at least as high a dividend yield as the average for the full set. As it happens, all of the companies in the subset that have A ratings from S&P on their bonds and stocks are Dividend Achievers

In next week’s blog, we highlight the 11 companies in VYM that aren’t in the Dow Jones Composite Index. Then you’ll need to track only 20 companies on your adventure into stock-picking! But be aware: 30% of those 20 companies are boring utilities, meaning that clear-eyed stock-picking isn’t glamorous at all. It’s just making money by not losing money, which is Warren Buffett’s #1 Rule.

Bottom Line: Stock-picking becomes a problem for non-gamblers at the Go/No-Go point, i.e., after 5 years of trying, you need to think about giving up if you can’t beat the total return/yr for an S&P 500 Index fund (SPY or VFINX) by at least 2%/yr. This is because you need to cover your greater transaction costs and capital gains taxes that are being expensed out. We’re suggesting that you start with 9 “blue chip” stocks that have a reasonable likelihood of letting you stay in the game after a 5 year probation period. Of course, you’d be opening yourself up to selection bias because there is a greater risk of loss vs. investing in all 500 stocks. Academic studies have shown that you’d need to own shares in at least 50 companies to largely overcome that risk.

Risk Rating: 6 (10-Yr Treasury Note = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, gold = 10).

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NEE, MSFT, JNJ, KO, and UNP. I also own shares of MMM, TRV, and WMT.

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